COVID-19 strains medical waste management system

In at least 47 of the world’s least developed countries, half of health care clinics lack basic water services.

In the absence of adequate environmental and sanitation services, the impact of healthcare waste during the pandemic has been devastating, according to a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Dr Maria Neira, Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO, said in a statement that “COVID-19 has forced the world to address the gaps and neglected aspects of the flow of waste and how we produce, use and dispose of our health care resources, from cradle to grave.”

Data collected in 2019 shows that one in three healthcare facilities across the gauntlet do not manage medical waste. A deficiency in hospital waste management systems during the pandemic has contributed to a medical waste crisis, which the WHO says has strained already underfunded facilities and increased environmental ramifications.

The data is reviewed in a new WHO report titled “Global Analysis of Healthcare Waste in the Context of COVID-19. “The report provided an analysis based on an estimate of 87,000 tons of personal protective equipment (PPE) procured between March 2020 and November 2021. The majority of the equipment, which was used in the fight against COVID- 19 via a joint UN emergency The analysis does not take into account public procurement medical masks or other purchases made outside the initiative.

While the immediate need for PPE was prioritized, fewer resources were devoted to the proper disposal of 140 million test kits, which produced around 2,600 tonnes of mostly plastic, non-infectious waste. The kits generated 731,000 liters of chemical waste, which the WHO equates to a third of an Olympic swimming pool. In addition, syringes, needles and safety boxes accounted for 144,000 tonnes of waste generated.

“Providing health workers with the right PPE is absolutely vital,” Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, said in a statement. “But it’s also vital to make sure it can be used safely without impacting the environment.”

The report’s recommendations for managing medical waste build on a previous report titled “WHO manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19: prescriptions and concrete actions for health and a green economy“Environmental sustainability has given impetus to the study of waste management systems and COVID-19.

Emphasis is on eco-friendly packaging and shipping, reusable gloves and masks. Emphasis should be placed on recyclable or biodegradable materials as well as “investment in non-combustion waste treatment technologies, such as autoclaves; reverse logistics to support centralized processing and investments in the recycling sector to ensure that materials, like plastics, can have a second life.”

“Strong national policies and regulations” must be enforced along with adjustments in reporting, accountability, support for behavior change and workforce development, and increased budgets and funding, recommended WHO.

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